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For weeks, The Mom had been pestering me in private and in public (via Facebook) demanding that I must bring home penguins and an owl at any cost. It’s difficult to judge how serious The Mom is being at the best of times, but over the internet where she may sometimes exaggerates for the sake of a good joke, it gets even trickier.

I have, of late, been putting a lot of pictures of penguins and owls – sadly never together – doing cute and or funny things on her Facebook page. And each time I post a new picture she replies by demanding I steal whatever creature is featured, and smuggle it home for her Christmas.

There are many problems inherent in this demand, most of which are obvious, but the fact that in some ways I know she is not kidding and does not wish to concern herself with the dull and banal details of my potential arrest, incarceration and eventual deportation is the more interesting bit of the story I think.

First of all, on a very public platform, that we know the NSA or GCHQ is listening to or trolling or whatever it is they call spying these days, The Mom not only tells me to steal what is likely to be an endangered creature and ship it over international boarders but she also wilfully taunts the authorities in these demands. Things like ‘Don’t worry, it’s Canada, nobody will think to check your bag,’ or ‘Just tell them it’s for your work,’ are not helpful suggestions when made publicly with the intention of committing an international crime.

For the past month, whenever I asked her what she wanted by way of Christmas gift, she’d just say, “Penguins and owls.”

And nothing else. Since I have played this game with her for years now and she has always managed to somehow fill my ridiculous requests, I ould not turn up empty-handed. To have done so would have been to admit defeat and that would have resulted in endless teasing for the entire time I was home over the holidays. I can handle many things about an extended visit chez The Mom’s – the normal teasing and piss-taking that is part and parcel of being with family – but I cannot tolerate losing a challenge.

My eyes were peeled from the start of November as I received houseguests in Bristol each weekend. We trekked around town and I scouted out shops that looked like they might have the sort of thing I needed. But Bristol disappointed and my search was extended to London. One morning, my plans to see if Waitrose had anything were thwarted because of a firearms incident but I was not daunted: I was in Islington and I made the best of a bad situation. I went into several other shops and looked for anything that might be suitable. Eventually I found a card with owls on it made by a local artist. One down, one to go.

I was in London for a week before flying home to Canada and on Friday I had no penguins. I was on the 9am flight the next morning. Things were not looking good for me. Sure, I knew The Mom would overlook my failure to bring home both requested creatures, but that’s not the pioint. The Point is to win at all costs.

I went for a swim in the Olympic pool at Stratford where one has to walk through part of Westfield Mall before getting to the sporting area. On my way back, I remembered there is a Foyles book shop in the mall and that I had no reading material for my flight, so I popped in on the chance that I might find something. And funnily enough, next to the Foyles, there is a chocolate shop. I glanced at it briefly, my interest more captivated by the book shop.But I am very glad I did cast my eyes over the chocolate shop because there in the display was a box of five chocolate penguins.

I do believe I cackled as I purchased them, muttering disparaging things about The Mom’s lack of a challenge for me to rise to.

In any case, come Christmas morning, I waited as she opened the packages for her to put two and two together. And when she did there was the sly smile of recognition of a job well done.

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